Forever Young: Celebrating Bach, Seattle Style

Posted on April 02, 2015, 7:00 pm
10 mins


Johann Sebastian Bach just celebrated his 330th birthday and Seattleites can look forward to eat and drink their way through this monumental composer’s music in the coming months.  In true Seattle style, many of these performances include eccentric and quirky elements as performers continue to re-imagine and re-construct the sacred and secular works in Bach’s vast oeuvre.  The world has come to view Bach as a serious, stern man, who wrote sacred, formal music.  Yet, it is important to remember the “man beyond the bust” – a dichotomy of church/dance hall composer, at once “convivial, cantankerous, remote, present, full of humor but deeply serious” according to Bach proponent John Elliot Gardiner’s recent tome on Bach’s life, Music in the Castle of Heaven.  Seattle’s musicians seem to be celebrating just that in the coming months, with traditional and eccentric concerts featuring accomplished local and international musicians.

Ada's Technical Books and Café.  Photo Credit:  Morgen Schuler.

Ada’s Technical Books and Café. Photo Credit: Morgen Schuler.

In “From Bach to Einstein and Beyond:  A Celebration of Music and Physics” University of Washington  professor Vladimir Chaloupka will demonstrate the connections between science, music and society at favorite local Seattle haunt Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe.  An esteemed physicist and organist, Chaloupka will lead a Q&A with cellists Terry Cook and Chris Worswick and guests are instructed to “expect baroque, tango and a few musical surprises.”  The event is presented by Live Music Project in celebration of their first birthday.  More than 100 ensembles and orchestras have joined the ranks of this project during this relatively short time.  Hors d’oeuvres will be served before the presentations and cupcakes will be served during the performance.

For those who prefer a more hearty meal with their Bach, Early Music Underground are presenting “Bach, Brews, and Burgers” in collaboration with Naked City Brewery and Taphouse.  Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichordist and director of EMU explains:  “Baroque music is the ultimate very, very classic rock.  It has the fire of Bluegrass, the soul of R&B, and the intellectual and spiritual depth of Classical music.  This is living, dynamic, passionate people playing music that can really connect and move people today, if given the chance. We’re not offering a concert. We’re giving you an experience you’ll remember.” The menus at Naked City Brewery echoes the marriage of ideas that inspired this project, with American comfort food consisting of organic meats, vegetarian and gluten-free options served with their award-winning craft beers, all served in a new seventy-seater dining movie theater.

Seattle Symphony‘s “Baroque and Wine” initiative continues with their new concert titled “Handel, Vivaldi, and more” at Benaroya Hall.  The event will feature the Bach choral cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!”, conducted by London Sinfonia and Polyphony director, Stephen Layton.  Guests are invited for an hour and a quarter of wine tasting ($10 for 4 pours) in the lobby before the concert that will also feature Vivaldi’s Gloria, featuring soprano Amanda Forsythe and alto Deanne Meek.  This is a promising pairing with a meeting of Forsythe’s ““light and luster” voice with “wonderful agility and silvery top notes” and Meek’s “smooth and velvety” voice with “a touch of resin in the tone.”

Violinist Jaron Freeman-Fox

Violinist Jaron Freeman-Fox

Across the border, Early Music Vancouver are bringing “J.S. Bachwards:  Early Music From the Future for Solo Violin” to The Fox Cabaret.  Baroque violin specialist Marc Destrubé and former student Jaron Freeman-Fox share the stage in this genre breaking performance, featuringelectro-acoustic reimagined variation-based compositions.  Freeman-Fox, once a nomadic performer “moving from festival to festival, busking, house-sitting, harvesting, home schooling” is a protege of the prominent fiddler/composer Oliver Shroer and has since collaborated on such diverse projects as movie soundtracks, iPhone apps, multimedia theatre and even a television commercial in his native Canada.

Violinists Jason Hershey and Davis Reed will be performing violin duets at a local “groupmuse” titled “Music by the Lake.”  For the uninitiated, a groupmuse is a chamber-music-concert-meets-house-party, featuring a variety of musical entertainment.  This particular event will be hosted by one Anna L. in Greenlake, and guests can expect a mostly 20s-30s crowd.  Groupmuses are a wonderful way to experience Bach’s music in this 21st century homage to the domestic and chamber music of eighteenth and nineteenth century Germany.  Snacks and drinks are invited, but guests are encouraged to bring along other refreshments.  Guests receive the location for “Music by the Lake” only after RSVP’ing.

For those with more traditional tastes (in music and venues), University of Houston organist and professor Matthew Dirst is presenting Bach’s groundbreaking Art of Fugue in its entirety.  The Flentrop organ at St. Mark’s Cathedral was installed fifty years ago and contains 3,944 pipes, ranging from 32 feet to less than an inch.  Hearing this instrument – one of the largest mechanical key action organs of the 20th century – is a treat and is bound to enthrall listeners in the revered acoustical space in this “The Arts at St. Mark’s” concert.

Philharmonia Northwest conductor Julia Tai.

Philharmonia Northwest conductor Julia Tai.

Philharmonia Northwest are closing their 2014-2015 season this year with a Baroque throwback concert, featuring Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church near the University of Washington campus.  The concert will also feature Handel’s Water Music and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Trumpets.  Conducted Julia Tai has taken Seattle by storm after completing her doctorate at the University of Washington as a prominent innovator and champion of new works.  She has brought many new works to Seattle audiences through her work with the Seattle Chamber Players, Seattle Experimental Opera, Washington Composers Forum and the Seattle Modern Orchestra, further transforming Seattle’s classical music culture.

Pianist Angela Hewitt.

Pianist Angela Hewitt.

The University of Washington‘s Meany Hall will host world-renowned pianist Angela Hewitt as part of the UW World Music Series.  This foremost Bach-interpreter and 2006 Gramophone Artist of the Year will be performing an evocative program of piano music including Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Italian Concerto.  Keeping with the Italian theme, she will also perform the virtuosic Romantic composer Frans Lizst’s Italian-related masterpiece Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata (from Années de pèlerinage: Italie).  Hewitt’s accomplishments have transcended the world of music and was recently made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was also rewarded an Order of the British Empire at the Queen’s Birthday Honors in 2006.

With so many tantalizing musical (and epicurean) options, there is no time like the present to indulge in Bach’s serious and quirky side.  Here’s to the prospect of a Coffee Cantata series at local roasters in the Fall!

From Bach to Einstein and Beyond:  A Celebration of Music and Physics

When:  Friday, April 3;  6PM

Where:  Ada’s Technical Books and Café (425 15th Ave E)

Bach, Brews and Burgers

When:  Tuesday, April 14;  7 PM

Where:  Naked City Brewery and Taphouse (8564 Greenwood Ave N)

Seattle Symphony present Baroque and Wine 

When:  Saturday, May 15;  8 PM

Where:  Benaroya Hall (200 University St)

Tickets available through

J.S. Bachwards:  Early Music From the Future for Solo Violin

When:  Tuesday, May 5;  Pre-concert chat 7:15 PM, Concert 8 PM

Where:  The Fox Cabaret (2321 Main St, Vancouver)

Tickets available through

Music By The Lake (Groupmuse)

When:  Thursday, April 9; 7 PM

Where:  Undisclosed location available upon RSVP

For more information visit Groupmuse

The Arts at St. Mark’s Presents “The Art of Fugue”

When:  Friday, May 1;  7:30 PM

Where:  St. Mark’s Cathedral (1245 10th Ave E)

Tickets available at the door.

Philharmonia NW Presents “Baroque Masterworks”

When:  Sunday, April 26;  2:30 PM

Where:  St. Stephens Episcopal Church (4805 NE 45th St )

Tickets available through

UW World Series Presents Angela Hewitt

When:  Monday, May 18;  7:30 PM

Where:  Meany Hall (4015 15th Ave NE)

Tickets available through ArtsUW Tickets



Johann Van Niekerk is a writer, conductor and collaborative artist based in Seattle, WA. He holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Washington where his research focused on the role that music has played throughout history in effecting social change. Van Niekerk covers performing arts events in and around Seattle.